Back in early October there were a bunch of poorly titled articles in the news proclaiming that ‘Pluto is a Planet again’ along with other misleading titles. At the time we were busy prepping for the holiday season and could not address this issue. Now that we can, we have this to say:
Don’t bet on it.
Most of these titles stem from the results of a debate at Harvard which kind of smacks of ‘fixed results’ and was widely reported as if this were the final word the subject.
But this isn’t a popularity contest. This isn’t a subject decided by debate and thus far those wanting Pluto to be a planet again haven’t us any answer beyond sentimentality, and slight variations on ‘awww, c’mon!!’.
We’ve already cover the why of Pluto’s change from Planet to Dwarf Planet. Long story short is that the International Astronomer’s Union bent over backwards at first to try and keep Pluto as a planet that the would have accidentally admitted several asteroids and at least 5 Kuiper Belt objects into the category of “Planet” (with doubtless more coming in the future).
Suddenly a solar system with 15 planets with the possibility of another 3-5 in the near future – not counting anything else we found in the Kuiper belt – didn’t seem so keen.
The astronomer’s union then adapted a new set of rules with regret, but with the satisfaction that they had an effective definition of “Planet”. The regret of course was that Pluto was no longer the planet we knew. This sort of thing had happened before, when the definition of ‘asteroid’ was defined in the 19th century and Ceres was demoted from planet-hood after being classified as a planet for half a century.
This year, on July 14th, the New Horizons Probe will reach and explore dwarf planet Pluto. Oddly enough, when New Horizons was launched (2006) Pluto was still classified as a planet. But these days we don’t just send space probes to the big planets any more. We’ve got space probes visiting asteroids, landing on comets, with more to come. It doesn’t matter what you call Pluto, we’re still going to study it.